The student loan may have nearly run dry. The expiry date of the seemingly endless summer holiday swiftly approaches. But before the lethal lectures, coursework and dissertations begin, a spot of travelling is an absolute necessity. Back in my second year of university, I embarked upon a trip. Ticket firmly stowed in my money belt, I journeyed across Europe in a carriage. A train carriage to be exact.
I stared at the scenic countryside, gazed at the locals waving from their lodgings, gasped at the breathtaking sunsets and was silenced by the beauty that infiltrated the train windows. But the thing – well, the question – which lives most vividly in my mind from that epic adventure was this: how can a train be so remarkably representative, so staggeringly stereotypical of the country it belongs to?
Flickr credit: jlascar
Boarding the rickety Hungarian train from Prague to Budapest, we could see we were in for no luxurious ride. The soft hues of brown saturated the cosy four-man compartment. We parked our bums on the worn leather benched seating. The windows bore marks of dirty fingerprints and cheek smears from passengers longing to flee. A gentleman, with threadbare clothes and a dog-eared hat placed precariously upon his balding head, insisted upon telling us his life story.
Hungary: a little tattered on the outside, worn to say the least, but with a distinctive charm, that once you’ve rubbed through the dust, exposes itself in the most humble of ways.
Flick Credit: Uitdragerij
Crammed into our claustrophobic cabin travelling through Croatia, we received a knock on the door and hesitantly pulled it ajar to see a frowning uniform standing authoritatively outside. What did he want? With the one English word he knew, he demanded “passport!”. Why was he taking our passports away? Would we get them back? Questions frazzled us. We gave in, tentatively handing them over. We felt empty, lost, bereft, until, that was, we noticed the three toiletry bags sitting on our beds. Train freebies, filled with all that a traveller on a budget needs… we were delighted.
Croatia: a country whose bark is definitely worse than its bite, a country which offers little surprises at the most unexpected times.
Awaiting the arrival of our train to Milan, the platform controller enthusiastically waving her arms around gave us no clue as to when our transport would arrive. When it did, the train sashayed towards the platform, giving a flirtatious toot of its horn. Once aboard, we revelled in the all-round shininess of the carriage – this train was built to boast about, to show off and shake its tail feathers at other trains. Falling back into the plush seats, we simultaneously averted our attention, feeling the stares of a group of three males, who obviously believed the term “Italian Stallion” was coined just for them.
Italy: full of overt gesticulations, evocative style, and a few infamous gentlemen.
Flickr credit: Yisris
Our final train journey took us to Barcelona and, in typical Spanish style, we arrived stylishly late. We slid into our cabin, only to find that it was already taken up with a family and our beds were nowhere to be found. Hunting down a train steward, we received a swift “no pasa nada” (‘it’s nothing’) and we retired to our ram-jammed sleeper, where it had, frankly, turned into more of a fiesta than a siesta.
Spain: embrace its “mañana, mañana” attitude and you’ll get along just fine.
Lastly, the German train… which was so crisply punctual, we missed it.